Five Things to Watch: Is Claude Giroux NHL’s hottest player? Hawks’ sizzling offence meets King’s stifling defence

Columbus Blue Jackets v Philadelphia Flyers

Four games are on tap as Claude Giroux and the Flyers visit Vancouver and it’s best offence vs. best defence as the Hawks and Kings clash. Here are five things to watch.

Making Amends:
It was November 9th, 2013, and the Philadelphia Flyers were hosting the Edmonton Oilers in a matchup of two teams that were off to disastrous starts in their respective seasons. It was this night, 16 games into the young 2013-14 season that Claude Giroux scored his first goal of the campaign and hence righted a sinking Flyers ship that was going down faster than Kesha and Pitbull’s new hit single, ‘Timber’. Since that game, Giroux has tallied 28 points in his last 23 games including 15 points in his last 8 contests making him one of the league’s most dangerous players heading into game three of the Flyers five-game western road-swing as they battle the Canucks this evening. Not only have his Flyers clawed their way back from league basement into third-place in the Metropolitan division, Giroux has surely clawed his way back into Olympic consideration.

Heavyweights Collide
It’s best vs. best. That is, best offence vs. best defence as the Los Angeles Kings pay a visit to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks. Simply put, the Hawks offense has been downright foolish this season. The windy city wonders have collected a dizzying 153 goals through 41 games which is 20 more than second place St. Louis and at the halfway point of the season, there seems to be no slowing these guys down. Chicago will meet its match with the Kings tonight however, as this will be the second match-up of the season for the two teams, with the Hawks taking round one by a score of 3-1 on December 15th. The King’s have received superb goaltending from the likes of Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones as Jonathan Quick has been sidelined since November with a groin injury. The squad has allowed just a measly 77 goals through 39 games, good for 1.97 goals against per game. This two teams never fail to put on a show.

Goalie controversy in Washington?
The Capitals could see a change in goal when they arrive on Canadian soil to take on the Senators Monday evening. Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer has carried the brunt of the load for the Metropolitan division second-place Capitals this month, and for good reason, as the lanky netminder has recorded a 5-1-2 record and .937 save percentage in his first NHL Season. However, Caps bench boss Adam Oates is quite clear on who his number one goalie is and unfortunately for the big German, it’s not him. “Holtby is the man, he has been our man” Oates told CSN Washington after his team’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Sabers Sunday night. Braden Holtby has played just once since December 18th, allowing five goals in each of his past two starts. If the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native falters against the Sens, will Oates turn back to Grubauer?

Broken Wings no more
At one point in early December, Mike Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings had as many as eight regular players out of their lineup. These battered wings are slowly starting to learn to fly again however, as Captain and HBO 24/7 pond-hockey star Henrik Zetterberg drew back into the lineup Saturday against the Panthers scoring a goal in his team’s 4-3 victory after missing a month of action with a herniated disc. The Wings could get another boost as starting goalie Jimmy Howard plans on following in ‘Hank’s’ footsteps as he looks to return from a sprained MCL injury and start against the Predators tonight. Detroit and Nashville used to be bitter rivals in the now old Central division so these clubs are very familiar with one another. Don’t anticipate the intensity to drop just because these two teams no longer see each other that often . Babcock and Pred’s coach Barry Trotz are as tactical as they come so expect nothing less than a low-scoring grudge match.

Nauseating Numbers
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith. What do these guys all have in common? No, it’s not that they all play for the same team. It’s that they are completely and utterly dominating their profession. The four super-stars on the Chicago Blackhawks are playing so ridiculous right now, Rob Ford could be playing on their off-wing and you wouldn’t even notice. Kane, Sharp, Toews and Keith sit 2nd, 9th, 11th and 15th in league scoring respectively and have combined for a whopping 64 points in their last 10 games. They are scorching hot and have carried the torch as the Hawks are tops in the league with a 27-7-7 record. Soon enough, these four will be carrying a different torch, that of the 2014 Sochi Olympics in February.